England’s secondary schools to have staggered return in January
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Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and the Department for Education (DfE) published plans on Thursday for a delayed return to the classroom at the beginning of the new term, with most secondary school pupils not returning until January 11.
This is to allow headteachers to roll out mass Covid testing, all of which will be done on a voluntary basis and, for students, will require parental consent.
Those students who return to face-to-face teaching in the first week of term will be offered the first testing dates.
Mr Williamson said the testing will “clamp down” on the virus after the Christmas break and help schools and colleges “stay in control” of any potential spread throughout the spring term.
Pupils taking GCSEs, A-levels and vocational exams are expected to return as normal when term starts on January 4 or 5, with other year groups studying online and asked to come in for a Covid test before returning fully the following week.
Primary schools will not be affected by the phased return and will go back to school as normal as will vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The start of the term won’t be delayed but what we are doing is asking secondary schools and colleges to operate a staggered return supported by full-time remote education during the first week of term, with in-person teaching in full starting on January 11.”
The announcement has drawn some criticism as it means that schools will have to rapidly produce online learning materials as they are ending their term on Friday while others have already closed for the holidays.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “I think schools are going to be really frustrated this has come at the last moment.
“What we needed for schools was a plan that started last September and what we have had is one problem after another all through to the Christmas period.”
Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said the government’s late announcement demonstrated “ministerial panic rather than rational and responsible action” in response to the rise in Covid-19 rates among pupils.